Robert Redford will play Branch Rickey -- or Bill Bryson
In April, Robert Redford tipped 24 Frames that he’d star in a movie about the relationship between Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey and second baseman Jackie Robinson. The film would be written and directed by “L.A. Confidential” writer Brian Helgeland, and produced and financed by Legendary Pictures, we wrote. The company squirmed at our posting on the subject, saying it was early days to talk about the film.
This morning the company sent out a release saying that it was indeed developing a movie about Jackie Robinson that Helgeland would write and direct. (It didn't mention the Branch Rickey angle in its statement but given that the project is being done in cooperation with the hands-on Robinson estate, the announcement's focus on just the player and not the general manager may not be that significant.)
In that same vein, it didn't name Redford either, leaving open the question of his involvement.
A spokeswoman for Redford declined comment, saying Redford was traveling. A Legendary spokeswoman said that there was "no casting to announce at this time."
Our sense is that Redford still ends up in the film, and the company just wanted to keep the focus on the life-rights deal. Casting, however, will be tricky in any event. One needs a bankable young black actor to play Robinson (the baseball star was just 28 when he broke the color barrier) and an older one who's believable as Rickey, the iconoclastic executive and unlikely Robinson foil. There's a reason a contemporary Robinson project has been stuck in development for years -- in addition to the casting problem, negotiations for life rights with an icon's estate are never easy. (There was, of course, a 1950 movie about Robinson's breaking of the color barrier that starred Robinson himself).
As for Redford, the actor told us in April that he hopes to get back to acting after several films behind the camera. His immediate next project could be the long-gestating adaptation of Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" -- think a more comedic "Into the Wild" -- that 24 Frames has learned would feature not just Redford but Nick Nolte, who would play an old chum of Bryson's with whom the author decides to walk the Appalachian Trail. The two have, improbably, never worked together before, and as Redford, in his mid-70s, still looks for new paths to blaze, it could fit the bill in more ways than one.
Photo: Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey at a sportswriters convention in Chicago circa 1948. Credit: HMH/AP